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Vajpayee scare for Shakespeare

Meerut/New Delhi, Aug. 14: To be or not to be was the question for William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw in Meerut’s Choudhury Charan Singh University. The institution’s board of studies, which recently rewrote the English syllabus for first year undergraduate students, had decided they were not to be.

It had suddenly discovered the literary prowess of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. And considered their writing good enough to replace the works of Shakespeare and Shaw.

The university’s working committee formally changed the English syllabus for first year students on August 2. Vajpayee’s No War Again and We Shall Never Bend replaced the Bard’s classics, Macbeth and Twelfth Night, while Shaw’s much-acclaimed Arms and the Man was booted out in favour of Kalam’s Patriotism Beyond Politics and Religion.

If undergraduate courses were not enough to drive the lesson home, Vajpayee’s poems — the literary merit of which is being debated in academic circles — had also been included in the eighth paper of the MA second year English syllabus. Kalam does not share the honours there.

The university’s vice-chancellor, R.P. Singh, had opposed the changes. “I was informed about the developments yesterday morning by the head of the department who also did not mince words in expressing his displeasure,” Singh said.

“A meeting was called today which was attended by members of the board of studies and the academic council. The suggestion by some members to replace the compositions of Shakespeare and Shaw with those of Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been rejected,” he said.

But the move itself has stirred a hornet’s nest, not the least for fear that somewhere, some day it will actually happen. Sycophancy, scream its detractors. Vajpayee can be called a Hindi poet at best, they say. And long-haired presidents don’t necessarily make authors of classics.

“Studying Vajpayee for an English course is like studying Voltaire for physics. How can the translated works of an author, known only because of his political position, be prescribed as a course book'” asks former culture secretary and poet Ashok Vajpeyi.

Writer Rajendra Yadav — editor of a Hindi literary magazine, Hans — is as scathing. “Kalam’s book might be a worthy ode to patriotism, but it is not a literary masterpiece. This is quite obviously the work of sycophants, looking for political brownie points.”

It’s not outsiders alone who are angry. The recommendation raised the hackles not only of the vice-chancellor but also of some members of the academic council.

“We are at a loss to understand how anybody can claim that the syllabus would be replaced by translated poems of our Prime Minister,” Singh said.

It appears the protagonists had suggested that the inclusion of Vajpayee’s poems would not go against UGC guidelines.

P.C. Pachouri, member of the academic council, said: “Just because someone’s recommendation doesn’t violate UGC guidelines doesn’t mean that he can suggest anything.”

Why did the board of studies do it in the first place' Brownie points are not always the consideration. Sometimes it’s a case of promoting peers. Not long ago, Premchand’s Nirmala was dropped from the Central Secondary Education curriculum and replaced by a novel written by Mridula Sinha, whose only claim to fame was a position she once held as the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s women’s wing. Academics cried foul. The CBSE reacted by taking both books into the syllabus.

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